Play It! Manchester
One of the most important things to know about me is that I’m passionate about video games. My partner and I recently invested in a PlayStation 2, so I could relive my childhood of SSX and Crazy Taxi. When I heard on the local news that Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry were doing an entire exhibit devoted to the history of computer games, I knew I had to go. I actually ended up going twice, once with a good friend and once with my partner. We paid our £4 for an hour and a half slot, and headed inside.
The room is divided into various sections, with gaming systems ranging from retro ataris right the way through to the up-and-coming oculus rift. I couldn’t name all the consoles as there were so many. The room encapsulated the history of the industry. What’s more, most of the consoles were arranged by date order, so it was possible to play through each in chronological order. I recognised some from my childhood (PlayStation fangirl for life!), but also ones I never got to play, like the atari and gamecube. Further back there were even versions of the very first consoles, which just played one game, and that was Pong. Beside each console was a label stating its name and the year of creation, but also some background information. A lot of the very early consoles flopped on release as they were outcompeted by arcade games, which incidentally were also available to play at the exhibit.
There were early computers, like the BBC Microcomputer System, and visitors had the opportunity to type some lines of code using instructions provided (yay, programming!). One of my personal favourites was Granny’s Garden, which is basically a text adventure, but with pixelated images that were sometimes animated.
However, I would be lying if I said that the oculus rift wasn’t the best part of the event. The oculus rift is a virtual reality headset, which allows the user a highly immersive experience. I believe MOSI was using the DK2 version, and the game was a demo version of Elite: Dangerous. The demo was very simplified; the user drives a spaceship around an asteroid-laden environment at a (sometimes tediously) slow speed. So in terms of gameplay, there was very little to do, but for me the experience of the oculus was enough. Once the bulky headpiece is on, a button is pressed to realign the viewpoint, and then you can begin looking around. As I turned my head to explore the view around me in real time, I felt much more disoriented than I thought I would. The image was crisp and clear, and the headpiece itself was comfortable and not restricting, although I only had it on for a few minutes. My favourite part of the experience was being able to look down and see my virtual hands, which sadly weren’t synced with my real hands, although the technology isn’t far off! It reminded me of the technology imagined by Ernest Cline in Ready Player One, in which similar virtual reality headsets and gloves are used in MMORPGs. If you’re interested in computer games and the future of the industry, I highly recommend it. It was also hilarious to watch others trying it out, and there are plenty of videos on youtube that will allow you to experience that amusement for yourselves.
Aside from the Oculus Rift, the event itself was a fantastic experience. I spoke to a man using the BBC Microcomputer who had first learnt to code on it, and was now a professional programmer. I saw parents enthusiastically trying to engage children in the games they played as children, which to the younger generation seem outdated and primitive. I saw kids next to parents at the Halo circle in the middle of the room, showing them which buttons to press and when, and the parents struggle to avoid being shot (again). There was a broad range of generations, of which I sat roughly in the middle, and it was great to see so many people being involved in the same space. If you have a free day between now and the 9th of August, I highly recommend a visit. You can buy tickets here or get them at the door. MOSI are also doing a MakeFest this weekend, which I would be going to if I didn’t have work. It is FREE and you can find out more here. If you can’t make either of these, then there’s also also the Manchester Play Expo on the 10th and 11th of October. I’m going to try and book the weekend off work, if I ever hear back about the other days I’ve tried to book off. On that note, I’m going to go and look for a job that doesn’t require me to work every weekend…